Kamala Harris, who on Saturday became America’s first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president-elect, represents a new face of political power after an election all about who wields power and how they use it. The California senator’s history-making win also represents the millions of women in the demographics — often overlooked, historically underrepresented and systematically ignored — who are now the recipients of that new power for the first time in the country’s 200-plus-year history. Harris and President-elect Joe Biden’s victory as projected by CNN, arrives days after a prolonged vote count reflecting a deeply divided electorate. It symbolizes a bookend to the Trump era, which followed the first Black US President and was buoyed social ills including White supremacy. Harris’ triumph, in particular, marks a new high point in a career of barrier-breaking accomplishments, from San Francisco district attorney to California attorney general to just the second-ever Black female US senator.
“That I am here tonight is a testament to the dedication of generations before me,” Harris said during her Democratic National Convention acceptance speech in August, mentioning women such as Constance Baker Motley, Fannie Lou Hamer and Shirley Chisholm.
“Women and men who believed so fiercely in the promise of equality, liberty and justice for all,” she said.
Harris attended Howard University, a historically Black university in Washington. Her time at Howard, where she joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., profoundly shaped her political vision.
“You didn’t have to be confined by anyone else’s idea of what it means to be Black,” she told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” in September. “You could be a fine arts student and also be class president. You could be homecoming queen and be the head of the science club. You could be a member of a sorority and be in student government and want to go to law school, and it encouraged you to be your full self.”
Over the course of her White House bid, Harris never shied away from mentioning that people attempted to box her in or doubted her as she sought to pave a path in politics.
“I didn’t listen. And the people didn’t listen, either. And we won,” she would say.
As a Black and South Asian woman in an overwhelmingly White arena, Harris on her journey to the White House was something of a pioneer. And voters noticed.
“It just feels like Black girls like me can run for class president, Black girls like me can go for the big things in life like she did,” 14-year-old Paris Bond told CNN in August.
Harris was born in Oakland, California, in 1964, to parents who raised her in a bassinet of civil rights activism.
Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, an Indian immigrant, was a breast cancer researcher; she died of cancer in 2009. Harris’ father, Donald, is a Jamaican American professor of economics. On the campaign trail, the vice president-elect often talked about how her activist parents would push her in her stroller at civil rights marches. The couple divorced in 1972.
Harris grew up in the Bay Area but took frequent trips to India to visit extended family. At 12, she and her sister, Maya, moved with their mother to majority-White Montréal, where Gopalan Harris had secured a teaching post at McGill University as well as a research position at the Jewish General Hospital.